Sean Bratches, Hungaroring, 2019

Paddock Diary: Hungarian Grand Prix day one

2019 Hungarian Grand Prix

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The talk in the Hungaroring paddock is whether the 2020 F1 season could feature a record 22 races. @DieterRencken has been speaking to those in the know.

6am

Up early to head for the Hungaroring. My first visit to the Hungarian Grand Prix was in 1998. At the time, as a South African facing stringent visa regulations, I had mixed feelings: We’d (understandably) lost our race in 1986 as a consequence of apartheid, yet been replaced on the calendar by Hungary, a country then under severe communist rule. To us it seemed like double standards, something that arguably continues to this day despite F1’s numerous ownership changes…

1pm

Seven hours later I arrive at circuit, having used the back road selected by my GPS. I doubt it was significantly quicker, but my route took me through some quaint villages, which was a pleasant change from 30km of highway. Strange to relate that just 20 years ago smoky Trabants and rattly Yugos populated the leafy lanes that now boast every desirable automotive brand.

On the way into the paddock I spy Sean Bratches, F1’s commercial managing director, and quiz him on the state of the 2020 F1 calendar. It seems last-ditch attempts by the Catalan government to save the Spanish Grand Prix have thrown a spanner in the works, and although there is scepticism about the veracity of the deal, F1 needs every race to help balance its books. Thus we face 22 races, should Mexico sign.

Robert Kubica fans, Hungaroring, 2019The issue, though, is that the only realistic slot is in mid-May, between the Dutch and Monaco Grands Prix, necessitating a triple-header. Plus, Monaco’s anachronistic insistence on starting practice on Thursday would compress the schedule even worse than last year’s France-Austria-Britain triple. If that doesn’t come to pass, the race would need to be squeezed in between Asian and North American legs, putting pressure on the back end of a very busy year.

Any wonder teams, particularly those down the order with sparse resources and meagre revenues, are less than enamoured with the prospect of 22 races, particularly as their slice of the rumoured $20m hosting fee runs to little over $1m? Given it costs them $5m (on average) to contest a grand prix and that sponsors and broadcasters generally pay flat fees per season regardless of rounds, they’re on a hiding to nowhere.

It also seems the chances of a South African Grand Prix are diminishing by the day: Not only will a packed calendar leave little space for more races, but the country’s various scandals mean there is little appetite for sporting frivolities at government level after such as the state-owned electricity supplier lost R20bn ($1.4bn) last year, mainly due to corruption.

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2pm

Hungaroring, 2019The leisure area in front of the control tower boasts a temporary pool complete with inflatable shark, reminding me of undignified photos of a dishevelled Kimi Raikkonen embracing a blow-up dolphin in the streets of Gran Canaria after a heavy night out. I’m sure his handlers will keep him in check this weekend, particularly given the hordes of Finnish fans that traditionally frequent this race.

That said, I’m told that about a third of the expected 100,000 fans expected by the race organisers on race day will be Polish, turning out in support of Robert Kubica. Oh, that his career had turned out differently: we could be racing in Warsaw or Krakow, rather than Baku…

While awaiting the FIA press conference I grab a couple of ham and egg rolls in the media centre – my first proper sustenance since last night.

4pm

The interviews continue after the press conference. Alexander Albon’s session is noticeably busier than usual after his superb Hockenheim showing. “It will be back to normal later this weekend,” he predicts.

Daniel Ricciardo, despite missing out on much of the fun due to his engine failure last weekend, remains a smile a minute. At McLaren twins, Lando Norris admits he had doubts about his capabilities as a driver before reaching F1 – a rare admission from a racer.

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6pm

TV recording about the politics and business of F1 for MBC, the Middle East broadcaster, for a feature to be broadcast during F1’s summer break. One of the key questions relates to expanding F1’s footprint in the region, which gets me thinking about more Middle Eastern rounds.

8pm

Pack up, ready to hit the road and head for hotel, a small family-run place in Budapest’s suburbs. The menu looks reasonable so I elect to eat in – bacon-wrapped chicken breasts with mash and salad, followed by ice cream trifle. It hits the empty spots before I turn after a 30C day.

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2019 Hungarian Grand Prix

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Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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14 comments on “Paddock Diary: Hungarian Grand Prix day one”

  1. With all due respect, I don’t it’s fair to compare apartheid to a communist dictatorship.

    1. The basic ideology of communism is full of good intentions and you can’t say the same about apartheid.

      But look up the number of people killed and you’ll find out that communism outranks fascism (Stalin, Pol Pot, even “hero” Che Guevara has contributed between 4 and 1900).

      So I can understand why dieter made the comparison.

      1. Me too, but I don’t think Hungary in the ’80s was that type of place. Eastern block Europe was no Cambodia. Under the same logic, all South American dictatorships in the’ 70s and ’80s (were F1 races were run too) were capitalistic societies, and nobody puts them in the same group as the US or Europe.

        I truly enjoy Mr. Rencken’s diaries and don’t think this is the right place to discuss politics, but I think his analogy is too much of a stretch and wanted to say so.

        1. +1
          I think Dieter Rencken was reporting how it felt for him at the time, but yes, I immediately had the same objection.

        2. I suspect if you were the target of the Hungarian secret police you might feel differently.

  2. Some great insights as usual from Dieter, this time including apartheid and bacon wrapped chicken breasts! The ultimate road warrior

  3. Great to hear that the two standout rookies are both remaining pretty humble.

    Doesn’t that picture at the top remind you of a used car salesman….. oh wait, perhaps he’s trying to channel the inner Bernie. Lol

    1. @dbradock: Yeah, baby… have we got a race deal for you! Glamorous despot special offers all week!

    2. Doesn’t that picture at the top remind you of a used car salesman

      @dbradock – LOL, nice one!

  4. Where does the $5 million per race figure come from? Are you dividing annual budget by races?

  5. Dear Dieter,

    I know it hurts you losing the grand prix but apartheid SA at the time was a fascist state while the Soviet Union were the ones who defeated the nazis during WWII. Without their heroic effort we would all be speaking german now.
    There was nothing controversial about moving the race to Hungary. It was a clear statement that nazism is a doomed ideology and I applaud those who made the decision. It’s one of the rare occasions when the sport did the right thing.

    1. Sorry to rock your boat there, but a pact between the USSR and Nazi Germany to split up Poland stood at the start of the war. It only ended when Germany turned onto Russia to conquer it.

      Not to mention the red army standing at the Wisla river while Nazis destroyed Warsawa on the other bank, killing about 200.000 civilians exactly 75 years ago.

      Not all that heroic.

  6. ”The issue, though, is that the only realistic slot is in mid-May, between the Dutch and Monaco Grands Prix, necessitating a triple-header. Plus, Monaco’s anachronistic insistence on starting practice on Thursday would compress the schedule even worse than last year’s France-Austria-Britain triple. If that doesn’t come to pass, the race would need to be squeezed in between Asian and North American legs, putting pressure on the back end of a very busy year.”

    – Not really, though. I’ve made draft calendars myself based on which venues might stay, and which drop. Mid-May isn’t the ‘only realistic slot’ for the Spanish GP, and even that wouldn’t force a triple-header.
    Here are viable options:
    Spain May 3/Netherlands May 10 (or the other way round) with Monaco 24, or Netherlands 3 with Spain on the 17th with Monaco again on the 24th, which would, of course, mean that the last sound of April would have to be vacant, i.e., the Vietnamese GP (should it be the 4th round of the season) would have to take place on the 19th of April, and, thus, form a (sensible) trouble-header with China, which definitely wouldn’t be out of the question.

    1. ‘the last Sunday of April’

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